The summer brings lots more family togetherness than during the school year, which is a very good thing - that is, until the kids start bickering. Here's help for keeping sibling strife in check.
When school lets out for the summer, the kids envision pool dates, park picnics, and building sandcastles at the local beach. For parents whose children bicker constantly, the forecast remains less than sunny. To keep the peace, as well as your sanity, Dr. Iris Hellner, a clinical psychologist and cofounder of InParentis, a parenting resource in Manhattan, offers tips for helping your children navigate the complexities of the sibling relationship.
Consider your expectations.
When dispelling the worst of sibling arguments, don't set your goals too high (say, expecting them to be best buddies around the clock). According to Dr. Hellner, being honest about what you are hoping for and what you expect can go a long way. "You are relating your expectations to your kids whether you mean to or not. If you get anxious because you want them to get along, it can create too much pressure on the sibling relationship and backfire."
Get a handle on the sibling dynamic (theirs and yours).
If one sibling fills the meeker role to another's overpowering personality, parents need to recognize what the child is like individually before getting involved. Dr. Hellner suggests that understanding the dynamic between siblings can help guide parents in deciding if and when to intervene.
Your own sibling relationships can be just as important. If you and your sibs are extremely close, you'll likely want the same thing for your own children. Siding with the more dominant sibling comes more easily if you fit that role. "You are not only watching them in their relationships, they are watching you too," Dr. Hellner says. "How do you treat your siblings? How do you talk about them to other people? How do you talk to them when you're on the phone? Your children's relationship can push your buttons, stirring up feelings about your own sibling relationship."
Find time to spend with each child.
While time may seem scarce, Dr. Hellner stresses the importance of making time for each child individually, which can bolster the sibling relationship. Setting aside this time is particularly essential during a summer when "family togetherness" occurs more frequently. "is important to keep in mind what makes each child tick, what turns each on, and how that interfaces with others in the family. Since everyone is different, it's helpful to remember that each person comes to any situation with his or her own abilities, interests, vulnerabilities, and if you focus on respecting the feelings of each, there will be more likely a chance for pleasure and growth." Keep this in mind especially when making family decisions.
Point out a touching moment.
Dr. Hellner emphasizes the "powerful impact" of taking time to observe and point out a positive interaction between siblings. The trick is not to turn the kids off by making a huge fuss, says Dr. Hellner. Something as simple as saying, "When I try to get your brother to eat broccoli, he never listens, but you can always get him to eat new things when you try," spotlights how the children influence one another in a positive way that promotes good-will without prompting a negative reaction to the comment.
Put new spins on jealousy and the "not fair" syndrome.
Not all sibling squabbles are created equal. Dr. Hellner says that children often direct their anger toward their siblings in place of the person or object that actually caused the anger. She offers the example of one child lashing out at her sibling after the sibling spent special alone time with a parent. Because children want their parents' love for themselves but don't want to be angry with their parents, they may misdirect their frustrations. Thwart any potential blow-ups by encouraging children to correctly direct their feelings of hurt or anger.
Dr. Hellner also suggests the sanity-saving tip of ending the cycle of feeling compelled to make things fair. Because life isn't necessarily fair, teaching children not to react negatively to a situation in which only one sibling receives a gift or goodie bag helps short-circuit fighting. According to Dr. Hellner, parents should remind children that the situation is not permanent and bring up a time when the disappointed sibling was the sole recipient of a special treat.
Remember that occasionally, kids will be kids.
While Dr. Hellner says she "errs toward intervention" in sibling fights, varying circumstances should dictate how parents react. "If it is two young kids or there is a significant age difference, I would step in more readily," says Dr. Hellner. As the children get older, however, the responsibility should fall on them to resolve the arguments themselves. While name-calling and physical fighting should never be tolerated, consider the children and whether they are capable of navigating the situation sans help. "Sometimes kids will be kids," says Dr. Hellner. "Parents should be there to enforce the basic rules of civility."
Keeping kids busy during the summer months is key! Check out our Online Calendar for upcoming family events in the New York City area.
Also see: A Parent's Guide to Summer in the NYC Area